By Matt Villano, on October 9, 2013

Whale-watching in Baja

Slimy. Cold. Mushy. Crusty.

None of these are words I would use to describe one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Yet when people ask me what it was like to touch a grey whale’s rostrum in a tiny bay north of Los Cabos, Mexico, these usually are the adjectives that come to mind.

The whole touching thing was the whale’s idea. I was one of a half-dozen people in a dinghy boat (known locally as a “panga”) on the waters of San Ignacio Lagoon. National and international rules stipulate that the boat operator couldn’t run the motor within 50 feet of the animals. So we floated there. And one of the moms came over to take a peek. There aren’t many places on earth where you can get that close to giant marine mammals and their babies in the wild. San Ignacio, about a two-hour drive from Los Cabos, is one such spot.

The phenomenon occurs every year between January and April. The whales travel down from the icy waters of Alaska to birth and rear their offspring in the bath-warm waters of Mexico. Once the kids arrive, the momma-and-calf pairs linger so moms can teach babies how to fend for themselves. When the moms are confident that the babies are big enough to deal with the outside world, they become “friendlies,” and do stuff like come up to boats and stick their rostrums out like dogs to be pet. We were happy to oblige.

Viewfinder Tip: Pick an outfitter who is committed to treating marine life the way it is supposed to be treated. A little difference goes a long way.

Most trips to San Ignacio require the expertise of an outfitter. Many of the outfitters also offer tent, yurt, or cabin camping on the bluffs that overlook the lagoon. When I went, I used Pachico’s Eco Tours, one of the oldest in the region. Other outfitters about whom I’ve heard good things include Baja Expeditions and Natural Habitat Adventures. (Many outfitters also offer day trips for adventurers visiting from Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo, or other nearby destinations.)

San Ignacio is one of many places in and around Los Cabos to experience superlative whale-watching throughout the year. Also during the winter and early spring, whale-watching trips to see some of the same greys are available right from Marina Cabo San Lucas. Most of these trips head to Magdalena Bay, which is about 30 miles south of San Ignacio Lagoon. If you’re lucky on one of these trips, you might even see some humpback whales en route.


Still other options for whale-watching in the region comprise trips from Loreto and La Paz on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula into the Sea of Cortez to see the largest mammals on Earth: blue whales. These trips also take place in the late winter and early spring – most years, the best time to go is between February and April. Many of the excursions, including the ones from Sea and Land Eco-Tours, include lunch. I’ve never done these trips, but they’ve spent a firm decade on my personal (but unofficial) bucket list. From what I’ve read, however, few experiences make you feel less significant than viewing a blue whale in the wild. And Loreto in particular is supposedly a funky and historic town.

The bottom line: Los Cabos is a great region for whale-watching. No, not every trip will lead to an encounter with a “friendly.” But the experience likely will give you a memory that will last forever.

What are some of the animals you wish to see in the wild someday?